Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Museum Popularity in the South Caucasus

In the South Caucasus there is a tension between the desire to leave the Soviet past behind and the desire to re-evaluate history. Museums are one of the arenas in which the past, culture and history of any country (or nation) are captured. The International Council of Museums defines a museum as “A permanent institution for charity, to the service of the society and of its development”. This blog shows the changing situation of museums in the South Caucasus and reveals that the attendance rate is highest in Armenia although the country has the fewest number of museums in the region.

According to the national statistics offices of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia (the State Statistical Committee of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the National Statistical Service of the Republic of Armenia and the National Statistics Office of Georgia), Azerbaijan is home to the largest number of museums in the region (227 in Azerbaijan, 183 in Georgia and 99 in Armenia). Azerbaijan has the largest population of the three states and Georgia has the greatest density of museums relative to its size and population. Additionally, Azerbaijan and Georgia have experienced the greatest increase in the number of museums. There has been a steady increase between 2005 and 2011 in Azerbaijan and a sharp increase from 2010 to 2011 in Georgia. Armenia, with the smallest population, also has the fewest museums in the region. 

Despite the fact that there were half as many museums in Armenia as in the other two countries in 2011, official statistics reveal that museum attendance is the highest in Armenia. Annual museum attendance in Armenia was relatively steady from 2005 to 2009 and then rose sharply after 2009. The number of visitors has almost tripled in Armenia since 2005, which reflects growing interest in museums in Armenia. The attendance rate in Armenia is more than three times higher than in Georgia even though there are almost twice as many museums in Georgia than in Armenia.

The increase in museum attendance in Armenia might be due to a number of factors, such as exhibition content, reduced ticket prices, effective advertising campaigns, and other possibilities. Additionally, tourism is one factor that might have an impact on museum attendance. However, data from the World Tourism Organization reveals that tourism was lowest in Armenia among all three South Caucasus countries from 2009-2011. In the last year, the tourism rate in Armenia was half that in Azerbaijan and four times lower than in Georgia. Thus, these numbers might suggest that museum attendance rates in Armenia are driven by locals rather than foreign visitors.

Data from the 2011 Caucasus Barometer (CB) also confirms that Armenians are the most keen to visit museums (or art galleries). CB data also indicate that this activity is most popular among women than men.

There is also a difference in the predominant type of museums found in each of the three countries: historical, memorial, local lore, arts and other. Museums engaged in collection, protection and the study of historical materials and monuments are predominant in all three countries. Again, data from the national statistics offices reveal a different distribution of the museums in the South Caucasus; memorial museums are the majority in Georgia, while most museums specialize in local lore and history in Azerbaijan, and the majority of museums are devoted to art in Armenia. The size of every museum possibly also affects its attendance rates, yet there is no data comparing their sizes in the region.

This blog shows that the number of museums negatively correlates with their attendance. Armenia has the fewest museums, yet it has the highest museum attendance rate. To add, it seems that museum visits are accelerated by locals in Armenia.

What types of museums do you find most appealing? What do you think explains the sharp growth of museum visits in certain countries? 

You can also explore the CB data sets on similar questions by visiting CRRC’s interactive Online Data Analysis tool at http://www.crrc.ge/oda/.

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